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Announcing Windows Live Mesh Technical Preview

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Jeff Blankenburg and I have been dog-fooding a new platform called Windows Live Mesh for the past month or two. On the surface, it just looks like another cool Web 2.0 application with some Software + Services architecture for fun.

But Live Mesh is leveraging two big trends we have all seen in our lives. The explosion of the web's role in our lives, and the vast array of digital devices we have. Many of these new devices can access the Internet (cell phones and cameras), or are network aware. Can you imagine what the Apollo program might have looked liked with today's technology?

I was talking to a friend that has a new phone, and he is trying to get all of his contacts (how many places do you store contacts?) synchronized everywhere, and easily accessible wherever he is. How many computers do you work on throughout the day, and forget something on the other?

See some sample screen shots, and read the official announcement at Introducing Live Mesh.

Our lives are filled with disconnected digital islands.

What about when you add an new device in your life? I just got a new Alienware laptop (post coming). How much time do I spend integrating it into my existing, analog, old fashioned mesh? 

That is just the beginning. Imagine what it will be like once my XBox 360, Media Center, MP3 player, car stereo/bluetooth, printer, digital picture frame (which I don't use because I have to manually update the pictures), my cameras (still and video), actually work together to make my life easier.

Once you create your mesh, and join your computers to it, you can do some great things. A simple feature is to sync folders over your mesh, so that they are accessible anywhere, ever on your web desktop! Hey, and since our devices are meshed, what about remote desktop? Sure! Remote Desktop is supported (and I believe it does not use RDP, so it gets through firewalls). I have already used these features a lot as I try to get my new laptop setup, and as I travel around the area.

What is a Technical Preview?

A Technical Preview is a limited release of a limited set of functionality. It's kind of like a "proof of concept", but more concrete. We want to get some web and desktop developers hands on the bits so the can provide us some feedback (some people call this transparency). We will also be testing for scalability, and other issues. There is no support, nor any expectation of uptime, or that the APIs won't change.

There is currently a very limited API. The full blown APIs will be released over the next few months (both .NET and JavaScript), as the platform is expanded and filled in. Not only will they be rich, but extensible. Being extensible is very important. It allows me, as a developer, to add my own sense to the platform. The APIs are identical for local and cloud use, which makes leveraging them much simpler.

The Technical Preview is by invitation only. If you are invited, please participate, and provide thoughtful feedback. I have given a lot of feedback over the past few months to the product team, and they have been very open about discussing the options, and the reasons for choices. It's nice to work with such an open team.

Timeline for a production release has not been set, but an open beta is targeted for the fall.

What can I do with this today?

When you join Mesh, you get an online desktop. This desktop in the cloud has 5GB of available storage.

While currently limited to web and local desktops, mobile and cross platform support (i.e. Mac) is on the schedule. I can't wait to access contacts and data from any of my devices, regardless of where the data IS!

That's cool, where's the revolution?

If you dig down, and look at the architecture, the vision, and the plan, you can see that Mesh is a platform. An S+S platform that every developer will be able to start leveraging. It is a platform that other Microsoft products, over time, will start using.

This platform represents the relations and connections between ourselves and our devices. It doesn't just stop there. I can use it to model my connections with peers, friends, and family. I can join their Mesh's to mine, in ways that are meaningful and useful to us.

This platform is not built on some new proprietary protocol we developed. It was built with HTTP and ATOM. You can use JSON, FeedSync, RSS, REST, POX, etc. over the wire. These are protocols and technologies we know really well today, and are very comfortable with. AtopPub is used to expose GET, PUT, POST and DELETE operations on Live Mesh resources. All of the resources are contained in feeds, which are addressable with standard URLs.

Earlier I used the term Revolutionary about this in a tweet. Maybe that is too strong for some people. But clear the noise from all of the activity going on in the technical space right now (the distractions, turf wars, and malcontents), and remember that power is in the platform. Can some of what WLM does today be done with other tools or frameworks? Yes, some. But we have put it all together, using open protocols, and added in a rich API.

Don't be a Plumber

I say that all the time. Think of how much code in something like Skype is truly about Skype. The bulk of the code is not about Skype, its about network management, encoding, security, peer-to-peer, etc. If those things were in the platform, Skype could have been built in a fraction of the time. Not just Skype though. Pick any new application or idea. Live Mesh is about giving you this platform. But not just to you, the smart, engaged, experienced enterprise developer, but to a whole host of developers and software tinkerers around the world. Live Mesh solves the hard plumbing problems for you, so that you can focus on building the application you dream of in your head.

The services the platform provides, today, are:

  1. Online and offline storage
  2. Membership
  3. Sync
  4. Peer-to-Peer communication
  5. Newsfeed

I can already imagine some amazing products I could write, just by mixing in the WLM platform into my architecture.

If you aren't up on the Software + Services architecture model, you should take some time and do so. We have an S+S event coming up soon, and once we have more details, I will post them here.

So when you download and play with Windows Live Mesh, enjoy the application, but see through this facade, to the platform. Where can you go on that platform?

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